Today on the blog I’m interviewing Charlie Benton, a fantasy and sci-fi writer who’s recently taken the plunge into becoming an indie author.
He talks to me about the process of writing and why he writes dark fantasy and science fiction.
Tell us something about your books, including your genre and your characters and/or themes.
I tend to write stories that I would want to read myself, typically sci-fi or fantasy.
I’ve tried my hand at more serious ‘grown up’ stories, but I usually end up getting bored.
My last book was The Obscene, alien contact sci-fi set in Chernobyl, and I’m currently working on both a grimdark fantasy and an Earth-based sci-fi novel set a thousand years in the future.
What inspires you to write? Who are your favorite writers?
Big question, there’s too many.
My favourite fantasy author has to be Lord Grimdark himself, Joe Abercrombie. I’m also a big fan of Jay Kristoff, author of the Nevernight series.
On the sci-fi side, I’d say the guys behind The Expanse series, James S.A. Corey were a big literary inspiration, but I find a lot of inspiration in video games. Wanting to write something like ‘Mass Effect’ has been a long term goal of mine.
How do you start writing? Do you have a process or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
It depends how quickly the idea comes.
Generally I’ll get inspired and write myself a little blurb or marketing shpiel. ‘In a world where…’ or ‘X character is a Y who…’ to expand on the idea and see if it sounds like something worth writing. Then I’ll flesh out characters and go chapter by chapter in my plan. For bigger fantasy novels I’ll spend months worldbuilding, drawing maps etc. Probably why I rarely ever finish them.
How has your writing process changed since you started writing?
I’ve been writing since I was 10, so it’s changed quite dramatically.
The first ‘novel’ I finished was 25,000 words of Harry Potter with the names and settings changed. I got a lovely rejection letter from Bloomsbury.
Back then, I just wrote things I thought sounded cool. I still do that, but with more structure and understanding and awareness of plagiarism.
How long does it normally take you to write, and what proportion of the time is spent doing what?
My last novel, The Obscene, took about 3 months total.
The first draft was just under 55k. I took a month out to let beta readers read it and tell me what they thought, then I compiled their comments and went back to it a month later and spent the next month editing it, with the final word count coming in at just under 65k and the story much improved.
That was a pretty straightforward process, but it can vary depending on the length and density of the manuscript.
What is your favorite part of the writing process?
First draft. I love just throwing everything down on paper, no matter how ridiculous, and just creating worlds and characters who are witty, or scheming, or dangerous. I get to live out different lives.
I find editing and redrafting laborious and depressing. I despise having to read it after, because I’m my own worst critic.
Do you involve other people in your writing, as collaborators or editors? How do you make this work?
Absolutely. I constantly need reassurance that what I’m writing isn’t utter dreck, so I will read it to my partner, or send it to friends.
However they can tend to pull punches (surprisingly though my fiancee has no qualms about criticising me if something is bad) so I find unbiased third parties.
Several people from the /r/Chernobyl subreddit offered to read The Obscene and gave me pointers on how to make it more realistic. I hired a professional beta reader to ensure unbiased critique, and I can highly recommend it.
Do you have any writing tips you’d like to share with readers?
Definitely look beyond your friends for proper critique of your work, because those people don’t have to be nice to you.
If you’re going to include characters from different backgrounds to yourself, seek out people who have that life experience to make sure it’s properly accurate and not stereotypical or even offensive. A great benefit of this is you might discover things you had no idea about and unlock more depth in the character. Some people call these ‘sensitivity readers’, but I think it’s just common sense. Why would you not want your book to be as accurate as possible?
Fundamentally though, don’t let anybody tell you what to write. Write whatever you like. It is worth noting that if you write something crap or offensive, you aren’t exempt from criticism, and people might not buy it, so it’s worth listening to honest critique. But you have to write the things you feel need to be written. Otherwise what’s the point?
Anything else I haven’t asked you about?
Where to buy my book! It’s called The Obscene and it’s available on Amazon now.
Thanks Charlie! It was interesting to hear your thoughts on so-called sensitivity readers and on first drafts vs editing.
You can find out more about Charlie via his website.